NTS LogoSkeptical News

 News saved 20 November 2015

 Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Finding Noah

The biblical figure Noah is known to be mythical, but numerous Young Earth Creationists (YEG) have launched expeditions to locate remnants of the legendary Ark. Dallas area creationist Don Patton is one of those, and he presented tales of his searches on numerous occasions in his local presentations.

An email sent to the NTS discusses the production of the filmFinding Noah, produced by Des Carey and Aaron Judkins,portrays one such expedition. Here’s the full text of the email from Sara Bruegel and Joe Taylor:

The Danger of Finding Noah


When you have gone to the trouble and expense to climb Mt. Ararat, one of the most dangerous places on earth, gone to Peru to film, ended up sick and sleeping on the floor of an airport in Mexico for several days, and returned home exhausted, then you can criticize the filmmakers for doing just that in order to make the new film, “Finding Noah”.  One of Mt. Blanco’s long-time excavation partners, Aaron Judkins, did all of the above and was a critical part to seeing this movie come to fruition.  And yet, two major creation organizations, Answers in Genesis (AiG) and Creation Ministries International (CMI) essentially agreed that going to Mt. Ararat in search of Noah’s Ark is a waste of time and money.

Joe Taylor, founder of Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum, wants it to be perfectly clear that he does not agree with this demeaning assessment of the film, Finding Noah, and that AiG and CMI have essentially said that even if Noah’s ark is found it wouldn’t convert anyone.  Yet, AiG is spending tens of millions on a fake ark in the hopes of doing just that.  There are a lot of good Christian people and scientists at both AiG and CMI, so Taylor was particularly disappointed that they could so easily discount the efforts of Aaron Judkins, Don Patton, and producer, Brent Baum.   Taylor was not able to see the film personally, but asked Sara Bruegel to watch the theater premier and give a report on it.  

Sara Bruegel says that Finding Noah is a very good film.  The beginning of the film gave an overview of ark sighting legends throughout history, including how reliable or questionable each one was.  It also gave the historical background of people who have searched for Noah’s ark on Ararat, the struggles they encountered, and what they did or didn’t find. Actually seeing Ararat up close on video helps give the viewer a much more personal grasp of what this mountain is really like and the challenges the team faced on this journey.  They showed the methods of their search and the reasoning behind the locations they chose to investigate in addition to interviews with a wide variety of knowledgeable people.  No, the team didn’t find the ark on this expedition, but in sciences like archaeology and paleontology, there’s never any guarantee that you will get that big find this time, but that doesn’t mean that potentially risky attempts in these sciences should be abandoned.

Creationist Joe Taylor is “owner, director and curator” of the Mt. Blanco Museum:

The Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum is acreationist museum in Crosbyton, Texas, opened in 1998.[1] Its motto is “Digging up the facts of God’s Creation: One fossil at a time.”

The warehouse-sized museum contains a mixture of fossilized skeletons and cast replicas. The replicas include a juvenileTriceratops, a full-sized mastodon skeleton, the largest hadrosaur leg ever found, and the world’s largest ice age bison skull. Real bones displayed include the head of a metoposaur, and once included the world’s largest four-tusked mastodon skull.[2]

The museum also bases the Mount Blanco fossil excavation team who go on digs and investigate fossil evidence according to a creationist view.[3] The museum has collaborated with Carl Baugh of the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas, in casting alleged mixed human and dinosaur footprints.[4][5] Those prints have been strongly criticized as incorrectly identified dinosaur prints, other fossils, or outright forgeries.[6]

I receive regular emails from the Mt. Blanco Museum, and I will keep readers up to date on future installments.

Natural News

Mike Adams hosts Natural News, a site devoted to wack medicine and conspiracy theories:

Natural News (formerly NewsTarget) is a website founded and operated by Mike Adams. It is based in Cedar Creek, Texas.[2]

It is dedicated to the sale of various dietary supplements, promotion of alternative medicine, controversial nutrition and health claims,[3] and variousconspiracy theories,[4] such as “chemtrails“, the purported dangers of fluoride in drinking water[5] (as well as those of monosodium glutamate[6] andaspartame), and purported health problems caused by allegedly “toxic” ingredients in vaccines,[3] including the now-discredited link to autism.[7]

Characterized as a “conspiracy-minded alternative medicine website”, Natural News has approximately 7 million unique visitors per month.[8]Founder Mike Adams has been accused of using sockpuppet accounts to fraudulently increase the vote count in his self-nomination for a Shorty Award. The journal Vaccine accused Adams of spreading “irresponsible health information” through Natural News.[9] He has also been accused of using “pseudoscience to sell his lies”.[10]

Its founder, Michael Allen “Mike” Adams is an AIDS denialist, a 9/11 truther, a birther,[11] and has endorsed conspiracy theories surrounding the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.[12]

Yes, based in our own Cedar Creek, Texas, in nearby Bastrop County. For weirdness, there is little to compare. Here’s a recent offering:

Cannabis oil cures terminal cancer in 3-year-old after pharmaceutical drugs fail miserably

(NaturalNews) A 3 year-old Utah boy, diagnosed with leukemia and told by doctors that he had mere days to live, is now alive and well not because he continued his chemotherapy, but because he obtained cannabis oil treatment instead. (1)The family, fed up with the fact that the only treatment doctors could recommend was chemotherapy–even after little Landon Riddle kept vomiting dozens of times daily and refused to eat after two months of chemo–looked into cannabis oil treatment. After reading up about it online and researching the details, they traveled to Colorado where such a treatment is legal, to help Landon. (1)”His whole chest was full of leukemia tumors which is why he couldn’t breathe,” says his mother, Sierra. “They started him on chemo, but told us that he probably wasn’t going to make it. We discussed all of our concerns with his medical team in Utah and watched Landon continue to suffer and wither away as the piled on drug after drug.” But rather than give in to a death sentence and play into Big Pharma’s only recommendation, Landon began cannabis oil treatments. The results have been incredible. (1)Within just days of the treatment, Landon showed signs of improvement. Instead of withering away, his appetite surged and his vomiting lessened. He rebounded, and as explained on aCNN video, is still cancer-free even months later. (1)
Curing cancer is only one of the dubious claims made for cannabis and cannabis oil, which is derived by crushing the plant. Claims of efficacy are  anecdotal at best and fraudulent at worst:

Miracle Cure?

By now nearly everyone has heard that cannabis can play a palliative role for cancer sufferers, especially in alleviating some of the nasty side effects of chemotherapy. There’s no question that pot can stave off nausea, improve appetite, and help with pain and sleep. But could it cure cancer? Troll the Internet and you’ll see hundreds, if not thousands, of such claims. A gullible Googler could easily believe we’re on the brink of a miracle cure.

The majority of these claims are anecdotal at best and fraudulent at worst. But there are also mentions of laboratory evidence pointing to cannabinoids as possible anticancer agents, and many of these reports lead to a lab in Spain run by a thoughtful, circumspect man named Manuel Guzmán.

Guzmán is a biochemist who’s studied cannabis for about 20 years. I visit him in his office at the Complutense University of Madrid, in a golden, graffiti-splotched building on a tree-lined boulevard. A handsome guy in his early 50s with blue eyes and shaggy brown hair tinged with gray, he speaks rapidly in a soft voice that makes a listener lean forward. “When the headline of a newspaper screams, ‘Brain Cancer Is Beaten With Cannabis!’ it is not true,” he says. “There are many claims on the Internet, but they are very, very weak.”

Keep reading Skeptical News. We are going to have more about Mike Adams and Natural News.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

PZ Myers on Dr. Michael Egnor

Evolution News is the blog site of the Discovery Institute, the premier sponsor of Intelligent Design in this country, if not the world. PZ Myers, idling momentarily at Skepticon, has commented on an item by DI blogger Dr. Michael Egnor. His remarks are not generous:

… but the best has got to be Michael Egnor, who seems to be babbling a great deal lately. I think he’s jealous that another, different lunatic neurosurgeon is getting all the press lately, so he’s trying to remind everyone that he can be just as kooky as Ben Carson. Maybe he’s hoping to get a vice presidential slot.

So he writes this pathetic exercise in human exceptionalism.

We are more different from apes than apes are from viruses. Our difference is a metaphysical chasm. It is obvious and manifest in our biological nature. We are rational animals, and our rationality is all the difference. Systems of taxonomy that emphasize physical and genetic similarities and ignore the fact that human beings are partly immaterial beings who are capable of abstract thought and contemplation of moral law and eternity are pitifully inadequate to describe man.

Here’s the sum of what Dr. Egnor has to say on the matter:

Jonathan Marks is a biological anthropologist who recently wrote anessay on the profound differences between human beings and apes. Paul Nelson and Ann Gauger have commented on him and his writing already (here and here). Marks’s essay has sparked some controversy, but the point he makes is valid.

Marks asserts:

The argument that “we are apes” is not a valid evolutionary one. After all, the distinguished evolutionary biologist George Gaylord Simpson wrote in a 1949 classic, “It is not a fact that man is an ape, extra tricks or no.”

Marks accepts the theory of common ancestry, and believes that we are descended from apes. He points out that evolutionary relationships are not the same thing as identities. Descent from apes does not mean we are apes. Taxonomy is not the same thing as identity. I agree.

Marks puts that this way:

Science no more says that I am an ape because my ancestors were, than it says that I am a slave because my ancestors were. The statement that you are your ancestors articulates a bio-political fact, not a biological fact.

Regardless of the strengths and weaknesses of the evolutionary argument that humans are descended from apes, the differences between humans and apes are so profound as to render the view that humans are apes abject nonsense.

It is important to understand the fundamental difference between humans and nonhuman animals. Nonhuman animals such as apes havematerial mental powers. By material I mean powers that are instantiated in the brain and wholly depend upon matter for their operation. These powers include sensation, perception, imagination (the ability to form mental images), memory (of perceptions and images), and appetite. Nonhuman animals have a mental capacity to perceive and respond to particulars, which are specific material objects such as other animals, food, obstacles, and predators.

Human beings have mental powers that include the material mental powers of animals but in addition entail a profoundly different kind of thinking. Human beings think abstractly, and nonhuman animals do not. Human beings have the power to contemplate universals, which are concepts that have no material instantiation. Human beings think about mathematics, literature, art, language, justice, mercy, and an endless library of abstract concepts. Human beings arerational animals.

Human rationality is not merely a highly evolved kind of animal perception. Human rationality is qualitatively different — ontologically different — from animal perception. Human rationality is different because it is immaterial. Contemplation of universals cannot have material instantiation, because universals themselves are not material and cannot be instantiated in matter.

I stress here the difference between representation and instantiation. Representation is the map of a thing. Instantiation is the thing itself. Universals can be represented in matter — the words I am writing in this post are representations of concepts — but universals cannot be instantiated in matter. I cannot put the concepts themselves on a computer screen or on a piece of paper, nor can the concepts exist physically in my brain. Concepts, which are universals, are immaterial.

Nonhuman animals are purely material beings. They have no concepts. They experience hunger and pain. They don’t contemplate the injustice of suffering.

A human being is material and immaterial — a composite being. We have material bodies, and our perceptions and imaginations and appetites are material powers, instantiated in our brains. But our intellect — our ability to think abstractly — is a wholly immaterial power, and our will that acts in accordance with our intellect is an immaterial power. Our intellect and our will depend on matter for their ordinary function, in the sense that they depend upon perception and imagination and memory, but they are not themselves made of matter. It is in our ability to think abstractly that we differ from apes. It is a radical difference — an immeasurable qualitative difference, not a quantitative difference.

We are more different from apes than apes are from viruses. Our difference is a metaphysical chasm. It is obvious and manifest in our biological nature. We are rational animals, and our rationality is all the difference. Systems of taxonomy that emphasize physical and genetic similarities and ignore the fact that human beings are partly immaterial beings who are capable of abstract thought and contemplation of moral law and eternity are pitifully inadequate to describe man.

The assertion that man is an ape is self-refuting. We could not express such a concept, misguided as it is, if we were apes and not men.

I will not elaborate further. Readers are invited to follow the links and pursue the conversation in detail.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Denying the Signature: Functional Information Is the Fact to Be Explained


Here is the latest from Evolution News, the blog of the Discovery Institute.

Editor’s note: Readers of Evolution News likely know the central thesis of Stephen Meyer’s bestseller, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. Meyer argues that the functional biological information necessary to build the Cambrian animals is best explained by the activity of a designing intelligence, rather than an undirected, materialistic evolutionary process. Most reviews of Darwin’s Doubt curiously omitted to address or even to accurately report this central claim. However, a review by philosophers Robert Bishop and Robert O’Connor in Books & Culture was a welcome exception. In this series, adapted from Debating Darwin’s Doubt, edited by ENV‘s David Klinghoffer, Dr. Meyer responds to their critiques. This is Part 2 of the series. Look here for Part 1.

Philosophers of science analyzing scientific arguments make a clear distinction between what needs to be explained (the relevant facts in question) and the competing explanations of those facts. They call the former the explanandum and the latter theexplanans. Bishop and O’Connor do not offer a competing explanation (another explanans) for the origin of biological information. Instead, they dispute my characterization of what needs to be explained (theexplanandum). They do so in several ways, which I will discuss in the next two articles in this series.

First, they question my characterization of DNA and RNA as molecules rich in functional digital information and my characterization of the gene expression system as an “information processing system” — in so doing, presumably raising questions about the need to explain the origin of these features of living systems. Specifically, Bishop and O’Connor assert that “talk of ‘genetic codes’ and ‘information processing’ with respect to the origin of life… can be very limited if not misleading.”

They argue that “abstracted notions of programs and processing seem inadequate to capture the exquisite precision and reliability of these processes.” In order to describe the process of protein synthesis more accurately, they argue that I should abandon an “information processing metaphor.”

Bishop and O’Connor are correct that, if not carefully defined, the term information can be misleading and lead to equivocation. But in both of my books I not only acknowledge this, but take great pains to avoid such confusion. I carefully define the type of information that reliably indicates the activity of an intelligent agent (functional or specified information, also known asspecified complexity) and distinguish it from a type of information that does not, namely, Shannon information (or mere complexity) — in the latter case, information that may not perform a function. I also distinguish functional information generally from a special type of functional information (semantic information) in which meaning is conveyed to, and perceived by, conscious agents. (See Signature in the Cell, Chapter 4, and Darwin’s Doubt, Chapter 8, for definitions.)

In so doing, I make clear that DNA contains functional information but definitely not semantic information. Bishop and O’Connor completely ignore this crucial discussion in their review and, consequently, express unfounded worries about the use of the term information as a “metaphor” in biology. Indeed, had I implied that the information in DNA conveyed semantic meaning, my description would have been inaccurate — and, at best, metaphorical. Nevertheless, both books clearly state that DNA contains functional or specified information and argue (based upon our uniform and repeated experience) that such information, as opposed to Shannon information, reliably indicates the activity of a designing intelligence.

As my colleague Casey Luskin has established, no serious biologist post-Watson and Crick has denied that DNA and RNA contain functional information expressed in a digital form — information that directs the construction of functional proteins (and editing of RNA molecules). Thus, contra Bishop and O’Connor, my characterization of DNA and RNA as molecules that store functional or specified information is not even remotely controversial within mainstream biology.

Nor is my judgment controversial that the gene expression system (the system by which proteins are synthesized in accord with the information stored on the DNA molecule) constitutes an information processing system. That is what the network of proteins and RNA molecules involved in the gene-expression system do: They process (that is copy, translate, and express) the information stored within the DNA molecule. The information processing systems present in the cell may well be much more precise than those that human computer engineers have designed, but that does not mean that describing the gene expression system as an information processing system is inaccurate. Describing the gene expression system as an information processing system is not to employ a metaphor. It is to describe what the system does — again, to process (or express) genetic information.

I’m not going to quote the remainder of Meyer’s argument, but I will summarize the substance. Creationist Stephen C. Meyer is Program Director of the Center for Science and Culture, the arm of the Discovery Institute that manages Intelligent Design. I have previously reviewed his book, Signature in the Cell. His most recent book is Darwin’s Doubt, with the subtitle The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. That’s what this Evolution News post is all about.

I have obtained a copy of Darwin’s Doubt, and I will be reviewing it shortly. In the mean time review Meyer’s post and get back with us for additional discussion.